Shame and “Disease”

The whole idea of calling mental health or behavioral problems–like depression, alcohol abuse–a “disease” was to encourage people to stop viewing them with shame. If you view your problems with shame, you’ll more likely deny or ignore them rather than “treat” or face them. That’s a good point. At the same time, in calling something a “disease” you imply that (1) there’s no choice or personal responsibility involved, and (2) somebody else must fix you.

Both of these things are false.

A mental health or behavioral problem can only be fixed by the person who has the problem–with the guidance of a professional, for sure. But guidance is not the same as having something “done to you” like a heart surgeon, for example, works on your heart; or like a medication, for example, eradicates an infection.

Mental health professionals were right to get rid of the shame, but wrong to get rid of personal responsibility and realism. In getting rid of these two things, you do the patient no favors. You help someone by saying, “I care, and I’m here to help you.” But it’s just as crucial to tell them, “You have to change your thinking and your habits if your life is to improve. I’m here to help you do that. But it’s still YOU that has to do it.”